What Fine Things We Are

There are two of us
Us women
There are more of us than that.
It is a fine thing
That we should feel free,
While the music still holds our hands
Like we are children.
What fine things we are

What Fine Things We Are is a work in progress and my first piece of music theatre.  It is essentially a reflective and creative response to my own experiences working as a music therapist in psychiatric institutions. I’ve been fortunate to work in these most compelling and fascinating places, to work with such interesting, strong and courageous clients and colleagues, and to be able to leave these places of my own free will.

What Fine Things We Are follows the journey of the fictitious Stevie through the mental health system, and through mental states of psychosis, depression, rage and last to grief which are reflected by the staff, patients and system of “Sunnybank Hospital”. We also follow the characters of Amanda, his nurse; Dr Duke, his psychiatrist, and Gloria, the silent crone who has resided at Sunnybank for decades; as they all attempt to find their way through the system in which they find themselves.  We journey through dark places: fear, despair, rage; we witness tenderness and vulnerability. We are necessarily armed both with dark humour and with hope – it is the story of someone who survives.

I began writing this work partly to hold and explore some of the overwhelming emotions I discovered that were present for patients and workers, including myself, in the mental health system, and the various defensive responses triggered in order to deal with them. The mental health system, under the pressures of overwhelming needs, under-resourcing and human fears, largely functions by viewing individuals’ lives through the dehumanising lens of abstraction and numbers. Music theatre, on the other hand, is perfect for holding the complexity inherent in the range of conflicting emotions and perspectives that reside alongside each other in institutional care. This complexity feels more true to me.

One of the challenges facing mental health services is to be able to see and reflect the people it supports as individuals, whose strengths can be fully realised and celebrated and whose vulnerabilities can be fully met and understood. I’m writing this work because I want to celebrate lives that too often go unseen. In this last point particularly I think there is a truth for all of us: that we all have sides of ourselves that long to be seen and daren’t, that might turn out to be our greatest strengths.

Here is a taste of the music so far…

This is the opening number, sung by the hospital staff as Stevie is admitted to Sunnybank Hospital.

This is Stevie’s song for Amanda, which he sings without her knowledge.

Amanda sings this song for Gloria, inviting her to dance.

(Songs written and performed by Kath Bruce, sound recording by Adam Bulley)

One of my challenges as a therapist in the psychiatric institution was to try to simultaneously hold and understand the many perspectives of different workers and patients. I hope I rise to this challenge as a writer in this work.

Let loneliness be gone
In stardust we are all as one
A thousand lights are turning on
Slowly but surely
One by one

All music, lyrics, poetry copyright Katherine Bruce
Design by Helen Wyllie at wylliecat.co.uk
Produced by Kate Taylor
Directed by Kath Burlinson
All characters and events depicted in this story are entirely fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.